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Dame Merlyn Myer DBE

1900 – 1982

Dame Margery Merlyn Baillieu Myer (1900-1982), philanthropist and fundraiser, was the daughter of an hotelier, George Baillieu. Born in Queenscliff, she grew up in Melbourne, where she met store-owner Sidney Myer in 1916. Eighteen years her senior, he had arrived in Victoria as Simca Baevski in 1898. Changing his name to Myer, he had worked his way into a position to open a sophisticated American-style department store, the Myer Emporium, on Bourke Street in 1911. Merlyn Baillieu began an arts degree, but was distracted by love, and in 1920 she and Myer (a divorcé) married in San Francisco. Throughout the 1920s they moved between California and Melbourne, while he decided whether to remain in Australia or start afresh on the West Coast. In 1929, with two sons and two daughters, they returned to Melbourne and set up house at Cranlana, Toorak. As the company continued to expand, Sidney made generous contributions to cultural and charitable causes, but in 1934 he died. Merlyn plunged herself into the Myer Emporium and charitable work, administering the Sidney Myer Charitable Trust, which financed the Sidney Myer Music Bowl amongst many other projects. Apart from her many Myer-related activities, she was for more than four decades a very active board member of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, engaging closely with patients and staff as well as fundraising, often at Cranlana, and making big donations herself. For her work on behalf of the Red Cross during the war, she was appointed OBE. She raised large sums for cancer and heart disease research and was a member or patron of a host of other community welfare organisations. In 1960 she was promoted to DBE for her philanthropy. All the while she remained passionate about the Myer retail business and took a practical interest in the welfare of the store’s employees. Between 1919 and 1981 she went overseas 144 times, and from 1942 she often retreated to her sheep and cattle property Booroola, but she remained a byword in Melbourne for elegance and generosity. The Merlyn Theatre in the Malthouse complex is named in her honour.

Updated 2018